The Ultimate Fighting Championship will make history on Saturday night. After a decade of growth and prosperity under Zuffa LLC ownership, the UFC will finally make its network television debut. BlackSportsOnline.com’s MMA Insider Alex Donno breaks down UFC’s historic night and
The UFC signed a landmark seven year contract with the Fox network in August; and Saturday’s network debut brings high expectations, high pressure, but most importantly, a high profile fight. You only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s why UFC President Dana White decided to bring out the big guns for the Fox debut. Cain Velasquez, the soft spoken destroyer who finished Brock Lesnar within a single round back in October of 2010, will defend his UFC heavyweight title against top contender Junior dos Santos, the hard hitting, always smiling striker from Salvador, Brazil.
Although MMA fans have grown accustomed to watching talent-rich under cards before every UFC main event, Velasquez vs. dos Santos will be the only fight we see on Fox. According to Dana White, the inspiration comes from network televised boxing fights from decades past. To the average viewer, the world heavyweight title speaks for itself. It’s the most prestigious accolade in combat sports. With a prize of that magnitude on the line, any additional fight on the broadcast would pale in comparison. With that in mind, the pressure is on Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos to deliver. An exciting fight on network television would create a wealth of new fans, with so many eyes on the sport for the first time. But a boring, uneventful fight could backfire. It’s a possibility that White fears, but doesn’t expect. The selection of Velasquez and dos Santos to represent the UFC in its network TV debut came down to more than just the heavyweight title being on the line. Both have aggressive, powerful, and fast paced styles. Neither has ever been in a boring fight before, so logically, matched up together, it’s hard to imagine anything less than fireworks. In White’s words, “whether the fight lasts ten seconds or thirty minutes,” it’s going to be exciting.
Furthermore, its likely no coincidence that Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos are both polite, soft spoken, hard working individuals from humble beginnings. They don’t curse or trash talk. They don’t get into brawls outside the Octagon. They are the ideal ambassadors for the sport of MMA. When making a debut on network television, where not every viewer will have a positive preconception about those who compete in a sport that seems to brutal, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos will each be a breath of fresh air. For a inside view on lives and backgrounds of Velasquez and dos Santos, check out Fox’s brilliantly shot pre fight “Primetime” special.
As for the fight itself, most experts and fans are split virtually down the middle. On paper, Cain Velasquez will have a substantial edge in wrestling, with dos Santos holding an advantage in the striking game. But it might not be that simple. Velasquez is a former two-time All American collegiate wrestler at Arizona State, but his striking has improved to an elite-for-MMA level. The accuracy of his hands and proficiency of his head movement have been clearly evident in recent wins over Brock Lesnar and “Minotauro” Nogueira. In Junior dos Santos, he faces an opponent regarded for having the best pure boxing in the UFC’s heavyweight division. “JDS” is a right handed striker who possesses proven knockout power in both hands. Some fans will question dos Santos’ defensive wrestling, but he managed to easily stuff Shane Carwin’s takedowns back in June. Of course, it’s safe to assume that Velasquez is at least a slightly better wrestler than Carwin was (if not significantly better), but even if Cain gets Junior to the ground, holding him down won’t be easy. He has a knack for exploding back to his feet. Plus, Junior’s brown belt level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu could allow him to pose a serious submission threat to Cain if the fight goes to the floor. From a matchup standpoint, both fighters possess a great many strengths with very few, if any, weakness. But two possible x-factors stand out to me.
First, Cain Velasquez’ appears to be the superior conditioned fighter. His cardio is a thing of legend at his home gym, AKA in San Jose. According to Strikeforce heavyweight Daniel Cormier, a teammate of Cain, “he doesn’t get tired, he just gets hot.” AKA head trainer Javier Mendez jokes that they have to lock Cain out of the gym sometimes just to keep him from training 24 hours a day. Or maybe he’s not joking. In any heavyweight fight, an early knockout is a strong possibility, but if this fight goes into the late rounds (it’s scheduled for 5), Velasquez will likely have the advantage.
The second x-factor in this fight also lies with Velasquez, although this one could work greatly to his disadvantage. Not only has he been out of action since winning the title in October of 2010, he’s fighting for the first time after undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. For a big portion of his long layoff, his training was limited in order to favor the injury. Even if we assume that his shoulder is 100 percent healthy, the long layoff might have an effect on his timing and confidence in the fight. It’s something in MMA that we call “cage rust.” But to be fair, the best way to combat cage rust is to train hard and spar often, and those are a couple things Cain does extremely well. During Cain’s long layoff, dos Santos has remained healthy, and last fought just four months ago.
UFC President Dana White calls this “the biggest fight in UFC history,” and it’s a hard point to argue. The Fox network has done their part with promotion, running extensive commercials and live promotional reads during baseball’s World Series and NFL Sundays. On October 30th, they premiered an hour long “Primetime” special to give fans a behind the scenes look at the lives and training of Velasquez and dos Santos. The table is set for a monumental success on network television. Now, it’s up to Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos to deliver on the hype.
The network broadcast for UFC on Fox begins live at 9:00pm EST.
Before the network broadcast starts, fans can enjoy a solid stack of preliminary bouts, streaming live on the UFC’s Facebook page. The prelims will be headlined by pivotal lightweight bout between former Strikeforce champion Clay Guida and former WEC champ Benson Henderson. While it hasn’t been confirmed yet by UFC brass, it’s widely speculated that the Guida vs. Henderson winner will earn a title shot against UFC champion Frankie Edgar.
For a wide collection of UFC on Fox preview interviews, please visit my MMA blog on the 790 The Ticket website. Included are interviews with Junior dos Santos, Clay Guida, Ben Henderson, Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com, and Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports.